Yes, you’ve made it to Florence! You’ve made a long list of all the things you want to see. Monuments. Squares. Churches. Good! But what we offer here is a different way to get to know the city, to savour it. Here we suggest that you add the people to your list of things to see. Flesh-and-blood Florentines, people who speak the local language and whose knowledge of the city flows through their veins. More than that, these people represent Florence at its truest, they are the ones who have brought it alive and made what it is today: a city where you can literally feel beauty, art, and ... the handmade, in every corner. For real. So here is an itinerary of some of Florence’s workshops.
It is divided into three stages, with the first one (this one) starting at Il Vecchio Conventino, in via Giano della Bella, 20/1 (Porta Romana area), where ARTEX, Centro per l'Artigianato Artistico e Tradizionale della Toscana is based, as well as more than 20 different workshops, where artisans work every day using traditional techniques of Florentine art and crafts.
Il Vecchio Conventino is a unique place and an original experience, bringing together so many artisans in one place. On the second Sunday of each month, with the event/market “Lungoungiorno + Fierucola” the place is filled with plenty of curious visitors. It’s not easy to choose from the many shops present, but we did it! Here are some tips for shops to visit, places that also offer the possibility to book practical demonstrations, enabling you to get "hands-on", or just listen to the noise of the gears grinding and the stories told.
Born in Belgium in 1966, Mireille Valentin trained in Florence, graduating in history of art from the Academy of Fine Arts and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, where she learned the art of mosaic. She works with passion, adhering to the traditional Florentine mosaic technique in semi-precious stones, which dates to the end of Medicean Florence, in the late sixteenth century, the moment that Mireille considers “the highest for craftsmanship and refinement”. She always researches materials and workmanship, both for restoration or for the creation of new artefacts. She chooses the stones and marble, selecting them carefully and making the most of the infinite variety of shades they offer, mainly using jasper, chalcedony, lapis lazuli and malachite. She uses the traditional techniques including bow openwork, staining and polishing to create beautiful miniatures, which turn into jewellery, paintings and tabletops.
Passionate about decorating since he was a young man, Tommaso De Carlo began to work in the shop while attending Florence Art Institute. From his day-to-day work, he learnt engraving and carving techniques as well as how to draw design objects. He later added interior decoration experience in polychromy and gilding to his portfolio. Inspired first of all by the iconographic repertoire of the Renaissance and by nature, he creates personal artefacts and decorative lines, constantly experimenting with new forms and languages. His focus on sustainability is reflected in the exclusive use of natural materials, as well as in the aesthetic recovery of pre-existing materials and paintings that he adapts into new forms. The same principle is applied to the furniture, which he often brings to new life, through renovation or makeover.
"The elegance and familiar taste, the softness and transparency that open a window onto the past ensure that every model becomes an object that has always been in your home." Lorenzo began his career alongside his father Marcello, who at age 14 had already discovered his passion for glassmaking. Stimulated by the aesthetic sense of the past, they restore and invent bevelled and hand-engraved glassware and crystal, emblems of elegance and expressiveness. Researched in depth, the shapes are blown by the mouths of traditional Tuscan blowers. Grinding and engraving are done strictly by hand using carborundum wheels to rough, grinding stones to finish and engrave, cork wheels wet with pumice to polish and wet felt wheels with cerium oxide to return the true brilliance.
Four brothers and a passion: to dress the world’s feet in traditional Florentine-style leather sandals and clogs. Giuliano, Gianni, Cristina and Maria Laudato, with their cousin Gianni, inherited the legacy of their father and grandfather, who opened a shop in Via Santa Monaca (Piazza del Carmine area) in the 60s, where their wares are still sold today. The Laudato family use natural plant leather tanned exclusively in Tuscany. All the shoes are made using traditional craftsmanship: every single part is made by hand, from the heel to the sole and the uppers. Everything is produced in-house and even the models are drawn by hands that have unparalleled wisdom and experience. Assembly and finishing is also done by hand: each one of them works on a pair of sandals, one of the few dozen that are produced each day in their workshop at Il Vecchio Conventino. Over the years, their reputation and craftsmanship has been consolidated and has conquered markets around the world.